Posts Tagged ‘Technology’
It’s been a while and I’ve been accumulating links. You’ll have to forgive me if I ramble on a bit.
As I often say about innovation, the technical problems are nothing compared to the pinhead legal problems. Verge has a good article up sorting through some of the legal and treaty issues (yes, treaty issues) involved in automated robotic cars. It’s definitely worth your time.
The article seems unduly pessimistic to me. These are things that can be worked out — we have entire armies of lawyers in this country who stand to make millions getting everything sorted into legal precedent. And if these things prove to be safe — and I think they will — the economic pressure to work out the legal issues will be fierce.
The one thing that bothered me about the article was this:
The Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) requires that drivers “shall at all times be able to control their vehicles,” and provisions against reckless driving usually require “the conscious and intentional operation of a motor vehicle.” Some of that is simple semantics, but other concerns are harder to dismiss. After a crash, drivers are legally obligated to stop and help the injured — a difficult task if there’s no one in the car.
As a result, most experts predict drivers will be legally required to have a person in the car at all times, ready to take over if the automatic system fails. If they’re right, the self-parking car may never be legal.
Did you see the subtext? The subtext is that if I’m in a crash with an automated car, there is no one around to render assistance to me.
Well, maybe. Bleeding out while unconscious or seriously injured would be a risk (although it’s not like pedestrians and bystanders are going to disappear). But being in a collision with a robot would have some advantages over being in one with a human:
Robot cars are coming, one way or another. As powerful as the legal pinheads are, the force of progress is simply too strong.
So, I finally got a new pair of headphones today. That in itself is a story. When I was in grad school, I bought a pair of heavy earphones that were fantastic. Long cord, covered the ears, good balance. I used the hell out of them. One day someone broke into my UT-Austin office through the ceiling and stole my monitor and my headphones. We recovered the monitor; they’d stashed it for later retrieval and I got it back after the police fingerprinted it. But the headphones were never seen again. Why they would want my old, torn-up, earwax-encrusted headphones mystifies me a bit. But, as Robert Heinlein said, thieves will steal anything that isn’t nailed down whether it’s valuable or not.
When I get new electronics, one of my little quirks is to figure out the perfect media with which to break them in with. When I got my first DVD player, it was Saving Private Ryan. When I got my blu-ray player, it was Lord of the Rings (DVD). So what do you break a new pair of headphones in with?
If you’re me, you break them in with the Fourth Movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. And since it is Christmas, it becomes doubly apropos.
Other writers have written more eloquently than I can about the 9th Symphony, which is simply the pinacle of musical achievement. Listened to on its own, it’s powerful, beautiful and overwhelming. But when you think about the circumstances: the most joyous uplifting music in history written by a man who was deaf and had an awful personal life … well, let me just say that I couldn’t get through typing that sentence without choking up.
As amazing as the 9th is on audio, it’s simply stunning in person. I’ve been privileged to see it live, performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. And I don’t think any media — digital, analog or telepathic — can convey just how special it is to watch it performed live. There’s something about seeing the hundred pieces of an orchestra and chorus working together that a recording simply can not convey.
What’s even more amazing is the response. I’ve been to many classical concerts and classical audiences tend to be a bit reserved. For a great performance, you’ll get a standing ovation. But it’s usually just politely attentive applause. When the last note of the 9th fell, however, I heard a sound I’d never heard from a classical audience before. There was a roar as the audience lept to their feet, clapping cheering and whistling. The ASO got five ovations the night I saw them. It was like we didn’t want that glorious music to end.
I have to agree with this article on how people are using their televisions wrong. It’s distressing to think that a generation of Americans may grow up not knowing how movies are supposed to look. Oh, well, I guess they’re already growing up not knowing how an action scene is supposed to be filmed.
The lamest thing about NBC’s Olympics is not the insipid announcing or the constant shuffling of events or the focus on drama instead of sport. No, the lamest thing is their online streaming.
No, scratch that. The streaming is actually very good. It’s easy to find events, the video is smooth and you can do a picture-in-picture thing to effectively watch two events at once. Even better: you can actually watch the events instead of puff pieces about the athletes, if you can imagine.
No, what’s lame is the business model. Streaming is only available to cable subscribers. You have to be subscribed to NBC, CNBC and MSNBC in order to stream events live to your computer. This may sound fine to NBC and its paleozoic business outlook. But it’s death for the modern viewer.
And it’s death to their finances. NBC is throwing away potentially millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars by not making their streaming more accessible. Prime time viewing will draw lots of eyes for a long time — their ratings have been through the roof. But streaming brings in new customers who would prefer a cleaner more current version of their coverage. And NBC could make trainloads of money off of it. I would personally pay at least $50 for unlimited access to Olympic coverage if I weren’t already paying the cable company for it. Just a million customers would bring in a cool $50 million for NBC of which the cable companies would get zero.
(Update: I’d forgotten that Comcast owns NBC and is therefore able to use the Olympics to sell crappy cable packages. That, of course, doesn’t apply to customers of other cable companies or customers who have cut the cord to cable. And the less said of the sleazy Comcast-NBC acquisition, the better. My general point remains unchanged: Olympic streaming should produce piles of money, not aggravation.)
But it’s bigger than that. The current trend is of customers following content rather than providers. Forget what NBC would make now; they would be setting up a gold mine for the future. You wouldn’t have to juggle six channels and tape delays to find what you want. Go to NBC, pony up some cash and the entire Olympiad would be laid out for you. Instead of this, they have hitched their wagon to the dying cable model. (See update above for why they’ve done this).
It’s not exactly news that cable is dying. My personal journey away from cable is like that of ten million other people in this country. When we lived in Texas, we had an elaborate and expensive cable package. When we moved to Pennsylvania, we ditched it. This wasn’t because we didn’t want it but because we simply couldn’t afford it until we sold our Texas home and my wife had a job. But even once those things were cleared up, we didn’t go back. We realized that we hadn’t missed cable. Between Netflix, Amazon and online streaming, we pretty much had everything we wanted. I’ve recently upped the subscription slightly to get Olympic coverage and football games. We’ve also had grandparents moving in with us for long periods and they miss the TV. But if I could, I would cut the cord completely.
The Great Recession has only accelerated this trend. People need to save money and cable is an obvious place. But even when (if?) the recession ends, I don’t think they’re going to stampede back. Consider the following replacement we put in place for a cable subscription running $100 a month:
We’re now up to a grand total of about $700. For that price, I get to watch any network television I want, when I want. I get to watch any baseball game in the country (and any football game if the NFL/NCAA ever pull their heads out of their asses). I get to make sure my daughter watches decent TV like My Little Pony instead of horrid TV. And cutting off her TV is as simple as changing the router password. And I still have $500 left over to buy any DVDs, blu-rays or downloads that haven’t been covered already. Or I can just throw myself a big party with some very expensive scotch.
Jesus Christ … why is anyone staying with cable? If channel surfing really that much fun?
I’m not going to say that cable is dead … yet. Cable can be very much alive if they start competing with that model. They’re doing this in their own way with On Demand movies and sports packages. But they have not gotten within screaming distance of the convenience, cost and mobility offered by other services. I can stream Netflix and MLB to any device no matter where I am in the United States; I can barely watch Comcast in my living room. I can watch Netflix or Amazon through an iPad app; for Comcast I need a huge box next to the TV. I can cut Netflix off with an e-mail; I’m locked in to Comcast for months. Netflix charges me $20 a month for as many downloads as I want; Comcast turns me over and shakes me by the ankles to see if I have any loose change.
That may have worked ten years ago. It’s a recipe for extinction now.
Cable companies are making tons of money right now, so they think everything is fine. But they are ignoring two things: (1) they are making money because they have little monopolies all over the country; (2) they are making money off the expectations of older customers. My daughter’s generation will simply not stand for this. Already, she expects content to show up on any reasonably flat surface at a touch with no commercials. She’s a part of a generation for whom everyone gathering around the Ol’ Radiation King at 8:00 to watch Seinfeld and eight minutes of commercials will sound as quaint as party phone lines do to me. She will navigate through a dozen internet services to find precisely what she wants at the best price and the least fuss. And cable … isn’t that.
Update: You might wonder what provoked this rant. Up until a few months ago, I had a minimal cable package. I ran the line into the back of my television and got a good number of channels with some in HD. We got PBS for the kid, football in the fall and a handful of other channels for the grandparents. We were fine. Then Comcast decided to “improve” their service. Suddenly, we needed a box and another remote control for every television. And the results was fewer channels and no high definition. It tells you how little we watch TV that we didn’t even notice this for a month.
So, as result of Comcast’s service improvement, we paid more, got worse service and were blessed with a big white elephant sitting next to every TV in the house. This is not a business model for the 21st century. It’s the business model of someone who has a monopoly … one that is doomed to extinction.